Daily Life

Drugstore adventures, round 4.

Drugstore loot...cream and lotion, sunscreen, laundry freshener, oil blotting paper, and tomato fat-burning gel

Drugstore loot…cream and lotion, sunscreen, laundry freshener, oil blotting paper, and tomato fat-burning gel

We stumbled upon Don Quixote, or ‘donki’ as it’s called here. It’s not technically a drugstore, it’s a massive discount store that sells everything from cosmetics to electronics to garden supplies to sex toys and maid costumes. Of course we went for the cosmetics and beauty products. Karis and I share a deep fascination for Japanese cosmetic stores and the goodies within. This is quite remarkable as Karis has no stamina as a shopper. My mum and I have failed dreadfully in training her up. I remember one incident in particular in Seattle on a ladies shopping trip where we mistakenly thought it would be fun to bring the girls. Not. They have no stamina. Literally. Ninety minutes in Nordstrom’s Rack and they were rolling around on the floor in-between the racks begging to go home. They were twelve and we were buying stuff for them. This is still the case even though she is a teenager working in the fashion industry…except for the cosmetic and beauty product stores. (And she doesn’t roll around on the floor now.)

These stores are filled with amazing things. It’s mysterious, like a treasure hunt, mostly because we rarely know what products do unless there is a helpful tag line in English which is rare (and often misleading). I’ve heard stories of foot peels gone awry leaving the bottom of your feet raw; moisturizer that is actually face bleach and mascara that is so waterproof that it needs the cosmetic equivalent of paint thinner to remove it. However, that does not scare us as the potential rewards are fabulous. They have amazing face masks, pre-soaked with solution (aloe, mushrooms, lavender, bee pollen, snake venom); rose-flavoured toothpaste; body gel that has some tomato product in it that burns fat; and probably the best sunscreen on the market by Anessa which is Shiseido’s drugstore brand. They’re also not afraid of using facial and hair oils–cosmetic giant Shu Umera makes a legendary facial cleansing oil that has been on the market in Japan since 1967.

The Japanese spend more on cosmetics than any country in the world which has resulted in a lot of money spent on research and development, particularly for sun protection. They have a number of organic and natural cosmetic lines as well and the drugstore brands are far superior to ours…just wish we could read the labels!

Better. Stronger. More heat-resistant.

SweatingThe people here in Tokyo are better than me. In many ways, but one in particular: they are not wussies about the heat. If you’ll notice in the photo, which is taken inside Shibuya station, there is a woman wearing stockings and a cardigan. I took this photo on Friday. It was 34 degrees (‘feels like 42’) outside, and it’s much hotter in the bowels of the station though the actual trains are air-conditioned.

The people here are stoic. It’s almost as if they dissociate themselves from the heat, then they won’t be hot. According to a friend who lives here, dissociation and distancing oneself is a necessary survival mechanism in a city this big. I see his point…it’s pretty orderly and polite all in all, otherwise anarchy would quickly take over. Anyway, I digress. The heat is insane. Everyone carries handkerchiefs here and in the summer, it’s basically the equivalent of a small washcloth to literally mop the sweat from your fevered brow. They are quite fashionable, embellished with all manner of brand names ranging from Betsey Johnson to Kitson to Laudree (which is a French baker specializing in macarons). They also have special tissue paper that soaks the oil off your skin. However, many people don’t appear to actually be sweating at all. These are often women, dressed in full kimono or in stockings, a dress and a cardigan. Stockings, as in nylons or pantyhose…with high heels. It actually boggles the mind. To add insult to injury, most of the mid-range and cheap clothing here is polyester (an abomination from biblical times) so it doesn’t even breathe. No cheap linen and cotton from Old Navy. They do have The Gap, Zara and H&M but it’s not as affordable as you would expect, though the Japanese equivalent, Uniqulo, has some good deals.

It’s also a more formal society here so you wouldn’t be seeing casual cotton shorts and T-shirts in the city anyway. Often when women and young girls wear shorts, they wear them with stockings; sheer or skimpy tank tops are usually worn with a camisole and they have special arm gloves to protect your you from the sun should you be wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Men wear full on suits (also polyester) with long-sleeved shirts and ties and many employees and blue-collar workers wear uniforms…also polyester. It’s a bit more casual on the weekend but still, on the whole, people wear a lot more clothing despite the heat. I’m not sure how they do it… Karis and I seem to get the beginnings of heat stroke whenever we’re out for more than an hour. Maybe it’s a Zen thing? Probably not something I’ll be mastering any time soon.

Epic storms of warm water.

Lightning collageAn homage to my Thunder Bay roots. I’m not from there but both my parents are and much of my extended family lives there. They would LOVE the thunderstorms here. This is the second one we’ve had in the last few days and they are loud. Loud enough to make the house shake and the windows rattle. The lightning is blinding…check out the blurry photos. The ones that look light daylight are lightning flashes. Epic. Luckily the very kind man from the restaurant (MILAN, Italian place down the road…lucky we didn’t go far) lent us an umbrella…not that it really helped. My flip-flop fell off as we were crossing the road and it nearly floated away. The puddles are warm like bath water.

A typical day (Model child)

Karis walking to the agency. It's 32 degrees out and cloudy. #areweinBangkok?

Karis walking to the agency. It’s 32 degrees out and cloudy. #areweinBangkok?

Karis’s days are rarely the same in terms of timing and scheduling. She gets a text the night before sometime between 9-11pm telling her how many castings she has the next day and what time she has to be at the agency. She walks there from the apartment which takes about 15 minutes as it’s so ridiculously hot that you just can’t go any quicker. There’s nothing special she has to wear…just a cute outfit. The girls mostly wear dressy shorts or skirts with short-sleeved T-shirts or short dresses. They have to bring heels and a bikini with them to every shoot just in case the client needs to see them walk for a shot or how they’d look for a swimwear or lingerie shoot. They all meet at the agency (whoever is going to the castings) and head out in the fancy bus/van driven by one of their bookers Kai, Tai or Sho (whom I’ve never met but I’ve been told he exists). Most of the castings start in the mid-to late afternoon and go well into the evening. She doesn’t usually get home until 8 or 9pm. Sometimes later.

When the girls get work they are responsible for getting there on their own. They are given written instructions detailing which subway or train line they are to take and from which station, where they are supposed to change and the next subway or train line and so on. They also get a map to follow from the subway station which tells them which exit to use which is really important as the bigger stations have many exits…just to put this in perspective, Shinjuku station has over 3 million passengers per day, 36 platforms and 200 exits…servicing 12 different lines from five different rail companies: the subway, the metro, the Keio line, the JR line and the Odakyu electric line.

New Faces like Karis also do photo shoots called testing (sometimes called creatives in Vancouver) to give them experience working with Japanese photographers and stylists as well as learning how to pose. It’s quite a different look than what we’re used to in North America and Europe.

The agency gives them an allowance every Tuesday of 10 000 Y which is a little over $100 for food and sundries. Your flight, accommodation and transportation is advanced to you by the agency. For more information on how this works in Japan (or anywhere actually) check out the Business Model Mag. It’s a very informative site AND it’s Canadian.

Models usually get the weekend off unless there’s a special event or they have a photo shoot. Time to see the sights, shop, workout or just relax. No clubbing though. It’s written into their contract that they’re not allowed to drink or go clubbing if they’re underage. Even if they’re of legal age (20) they’re supposed to keep it to a minimum or they’ll be sent home. And the agency always finds out….

A typical day (the Mothership)

A Zen exercise environment...lovely stone stairs to run up and stretch on and lion statues to stretch my shoulders out!

A Zen exercise environment…lovely stone stairs to run up and stretch on and lion statues to stretch my shoulders out!

Being here in Tokyo, staying in a house that is not mine without a garden, husband or dog, has given me a fair amount of free time. I’m here to help Karis stay organized and on top of things…mostly by making sure she’s fed and her laundry is done. This isn’t always easy here. You need to food shop almost every day as there is no storage space and we are sharing with other people. Also, I’m pretty sure if I left it up to her she’d be eating a lot of Ichiban (which means ‘number one’) noodles and salad which isn’t a nutritional wonderland. The older girls (17+) are a bit more cognizant of what they’re eating whilst the 15-year olds on their own tend to eat out, make pasta or have noodles and toast…mostly because they can because they’re 15! Laundry, as you’ve heard in previous posts, is slightly more complex as it has to be air-dried and there can be a lot of sudden rainstorms. Running errands and getting money can take time. The only bank machines that take foreign ATM cards are the ones at the Post office…which are only open when the post office is open. It took me a day to buy a pillow…one that didn’t cost $75. Printing and mailing an electronic document also took the better part of a day though I know how to do it now. However, seeing as I am experienced in doing the household stuff and relatively able to figure out other things, it doesn’t take up that much of my time. So I’ve got some free time where I’m on my own.

I’ve been exercising every day. I tried running but it hurts my knee too much. Probably need new runners and the pavement can be a bit uneven. It’s also a bit unnerving as there is a constant stream of people and bikes coming at you which makes me really anxious. Anyway, I decided to run up and down the stairs at the sumo park around the corner. It’s been fabulous. Quiet. Somewhat shaded if I go early enough and doesn’t hurt my knee. I considered joining a gym or doing a class but it’s quite expensive here (over $30/class) and I’d have to walk or take the train. I’m so very lazy that any sort of extra work will end up being a great excuse for me not to go. So since the park is literally about a hundred yards away, it works for me. I also do other exercises from Karis’s trainer Caroline Walton which are helping my core and keeping my back from getting sore 😉

I also write. This blog is part of my writing commitment as are various other projects I’m working on while I’m here. I write and read every day. Being here has made me really think about how I spend my time…and how I waste my time. I watch a lot of TV at home. Much more than I actually thought. We have a TV here but it’s in a cupboard and I don’t even know if it works. Haven’t cared enough to try. Karis watches movies on Netflix and sometimes we’ll watch one together. I read the newspaper about twice a week. I’ll be instituting a few changes when I get home.

I also help Karis if she needs to take the subway anywhere as she’s not yet confident on her own. She’s pretty good and is picking up the finer points–the agency does give them maps but it’s still VERY confusing. Basically, I manage to amuse myself all day, every day. The department stores here are amazing…6-9 floors of cultural anthropology. The cosmetic stores are amazing…they have products we haven’t even heard of. Stay tuned…. I still hate cooking and find it hard to figure out what to cook. Ingredients you take for granted are sometimes hard to find though I have to say, it’s a lot different than it was in the  90s…I got anchovies and capers at the store today to make Salad Nicoise!

My working area in the kitchen; the weird toaster/broiler worked well to roast peppers; the finished product: Salad Nicioise!

My working area in the kitchen; the weird toaster/broiler worked well to roast peppers; the finished product: Salad Nicoise with prosciutto and melon and roasted peppers on Italian buns!

 

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle and BURN

TrashTrash is complicated here. Burnables go out on Tuesday and Friday. Weird things that you wouldn’t really think of, are considered burnable. The agency leaves us helpful little signs so we know what’s what: food, old sandals, bento boxes, plastic bags, plastic bottles (yep) and used chopsticks. The recycling (separated by category) goes out on Wednesday morning: bottles and jars, hairspray aerosol cans,  magazines and newspapers and tin cans. Unburnable things smaller than 30 cm go out on the first and third Wednesday and include: broken bowls and cups (even if they’re glass), batteries, light bulbs and lighters. Not sure what happens items bigger than 30cm but I suspect they go out on the garbage day that we all used to look forward to when I lived here as a bright young thing in the 90s. I think this was the day that people left out GREAT stuff that was barely used that we would scavenge. We got a TV. Seriously. The remote was nicely taped to the top. Not a junker either…I don’t think the model they disposed of was even available in Canada yet. Housing is expensive so most people rent therefore they have a fair amount of disposable income so they buy the latest greatest stuff. But that’s another story. We also got a rice cooker, a new futon in the package, dishes, a table, a bike and a chair. I saw a bread maker on the street last Wednesday so I suspect that is when you get rid of big stuff. Maybe we’re not allowed to or maybe they just assume we don’t have anything that big.

The amount of packaging used is much less than it was in the 90s. Things used to be wrapped like crazy. For example, if I bought a bun from the bakery (one bun), it would be put on a small cardboard tray with a doily and a napkin, then into a small box, then into a carrier bag–sometimes with tissue paper. You could not sway them from this procedure and I even spoke Japanese then. When I moved into in the city (Gotanda, the armpit of Tokyo) there was another foreigner I would see at the supermarket who used to bring her own shopping bags (remember this was 1991) and the cashiers did not know what to make of her. They treated her carefully, like she was an unpredictable nut job that would potentially destroy the social order.

In terms of recycling and package, there have been improvements twenty-three years later. I’ve noticed that the packaging is less, I even get bonus points on my supermarket card if I bring my own bags! However, there is still an awful lot of garbage and some changes will be a long time coming: they still offer plastic umbrella bags at every store which you are expected to use when it rains.

Where, you may be wondering, do they actually BURN the trash? It would appear that there is an incinerator just down the street from us. In fact, I can see it now from where I sit. Though this is obviously an environmental faux pas, what choice do they have really? They probably don’t have room for landfills…. They could recycle the plastics and I’m not sure why they don’t; they could cut down on packaging; they could eat fewer packaged foods. To be fair to the Japanese, they do have an awful lot of people to contend with and they do have some time-honoured traditions that are VERY eco-friendly. The bento box, for example, used to be made of lacquerware (now mostly plastic) and is re-used every day. A large cloth called a furoshiki is used to wrap up your lunch or other items. Children are often given a cloth napkin in their fabric lunch bag. Kimono are handed down for generations. I have confidence the Japanese will come up with a solution.

This pile is of our ‘burnables’ since Friday. That’s for four people, one of whom left on Sunday. Not big eaters and the girls eat our at least one mean per day so I imagine for a family it would be a lot more. Note the lovely shot of the incinerator in the setting sun…they burn the garbage at night so as not to remind people….

Trash Incinerator

Shaking Earth…

earthquakeSo Karis and I were woken up today by the earthquake. The second one we have had. Last Saturday morning was just mild swaying…sort of like being on a boat. Karis didn’t even wake up. This morning’s event woke us both up from a sound sleep and lasted a little longer. There was a siren and an announcement over some sort of loudspeaker in the neighbourhood, which, of course, we couldn’t understand 😉 Then it ended and we went back to sleep.

I remember my first earthquake in Japan…23 years ago. Things actually fell off shelves. My roommate and I ran out into the middle of the street. No one was there. No siren. There was another one while we were out there in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night. No one even turned their lights on! Our apartment was old and it sort of swayed and rocked with the movement of the earth. We did get used to them…they happened almost weekly.

Apparently the apartment we live in now pretty safe though the girls tell me the apartment in Asakusa is better and you can’t even feel them there. I read a blog on what to do when an earthquake happens written by a foreigner living in Japan (http://www.thejapanguy.com/earthquake-safety-10-things-to-do-during-an-earthquake/). Apparently we’re supposed to stay indoors and know where there are flashlights (nope) and have a first aid kit (yep) and follow the instructions from a battery-operated radio (maybe?). Oh yeah…and don’t panic 😉

Car Culture

Alfa Romeo traffic UPD DeliveryIMG_0230

They have cars here that we don’t get in North America. Some are very cool Japanese concept cars that are hybrids or electrics; some that are extremely tiny and compact from international car makers; and some that are fancy versions of Toyotas that they don’t export. Apparently the Japanese car market is highly competitive and very specialized with high tariffs. Basically Japanese people like Japanese cars though there are growing numbers of number of luxury cars in wealthier areas. Apparently it is prestigious to own the usual suspects here as well: Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Range Rover, though the patriotic stick to the luxury versions of Japanese brands that are not usually exported.

Driving here is a nightmare. It’s on the other side of the road, like the UK. I am almost run down at least once a day. The traffic is horrendous–I actually saw a woman READING whilst driving the other day. To be fair, she wasn’t moving very quickly. People also text while driving here too and I don’t think it is illegal. If it is, everyone does it and no one seems to care.

Lots of people ride bikes…especially mums with kids and older people. I haven’t been hit by a cyclist yet and I’m learning to look out for them. They don’t ring their bells that often…they probably think it’s rude. I have to say…it’s all pretty efficient, the transportation thing, considering the population of Canada lives in Tokyo. If we were staying longer, I’d get a bike. I certainly wouldn’t drive here. Ever. Even if I lived here.

Car = kuruma

Laundry by Susan

Laundry

Laundry is a little more old-style here. Not that I’m down by the river pounding it on a rock or anything…which wouldn’t work because the river is black, but it’s a lot more labour intensive. For starters, I can’t really understand the washing machine. I can wash a load in cold water and spin it dry. There are few dryers here as electricity is very costly. They have those fancy-dancy two-in-one models that apparently wash AND dry but we use the time-honoured air dry method. Which is fine if it’s sunny out but a bit more time-consuming if it rains. Also, we only have one bath towel each and one set of sheets so you need to make sure you have lots of time to dry everything. When I lived here 23 years ago and we dried laundry on the deck, white clothing rapidly turned grey from the pollution. I think I’m in a nicer neighbourhood now, in that there are no factories or trains in my backyard, (though we do have a garbage incinerator though it apparently only runs at night for a variety of reasons), but I think it’s also less polluted in some ways. You aren’t actually ALLOWED to smoke in the streets. They have these smoke pits in various spots–for sure outside the train stations–and, for the most part people actually use them. That being said, you can still smoke in a lot of the restaurants here.
Anyway, back to laundry. Long term cold water washing doesn’t seem to get stuff CLEAN, but I can’t read the machine and have no idea how to change it. Better call in the Japanese friends. Cold water wash does give me limited opportunities to ruin stuff though. To dry laundry they have all kinds of cool little clip hangers and poles, but what I really want is a stand up rack. They’re not so popular here for some reason, maybe because they blow over in the wind? Most people have bars that hang from their deck that they hook their handy-dandy clip hanger laundry things to (see photo on title page). People also do laundry here pretty much every day. Probably because it’s so frickin’ hot and their clothes get dirty fast. I air-dried a thick towel today on my deck in under an hour. Seriously. It was ridiculously hot. I’m feeling quite noble and environmentally friendly, though I think the fact that they burn my trash at night kind of cancels that out.

Please note that this article was in tribute to my good friend, Susan–the most environmentally friendly person I know who always air dries her laundry;-)

Eating: More complicated than I thought

I forgot how small everything is here. No storage. They sell eggs in packs of four. No oven. Sharing with six other people. One shelf, one storage basket and one shelf in the fridge. Two burners, one microwave, one toaster/grill/potentially explosive device. No rice cooker and the blender is broken. It seems that a lot of people (Japanese people not just the idiot foreigners) eat at 7-11 (the ‘conbini’= convenience store) and there’s no shame in that here. I’ve found Greek yogurt, green tea and English muffins as well as chopped pineapple and affordable grapefruit. Though last night we did got to 7-11…ramen noodles, seaweed chips and carrot ice cream. Going to get more organized today seeing as they do keep track of the girls’ measurements–the clothes are a lot smaller here. Most of the girls eat pretty well especially the older more experienced models; the young ones tend to choose pasta and toast in a pinch. Can’t say that I blame them…easy, cheap and recognizable comfort food. You can get awesome sushi at the supermarket though for about $4… Just takes a little organization. And the toaster/grill thing scares me. It is gas and doesn’t always light quickly… Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t even light the barbecue because I harbour a deep distrust of propane. So you can imagine me making toast…